How Covid-19 has devastated access to education

Amir Ullah Khan and Nahia Hussain

The year 2020 is a tragic one for a variety of reasons. One of those is by way of its impact on education and on schooling. Enrolment rates in 2020 are relatively lower than those in 2018.  While children between ages 6-7 are possibly waiting for schools to reopen to seek admission, a worrying trend is a drop in enrollment among children aged 15-16.  The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2020 by Pratham highlights how the pandemic is impacting schools and learning outcomes in Rural India. The survey answers some troubling concerns about the school system in the post-Covid world.

Pandemic impact on enrolment

As one would expect with the ongoing crisis, the survey indicates that a vast majority of such children perhaps are probably compelled to find remunerative jobs to ease their families’ distress. The enrolment patterns are also witnessing a significant turnaround. A shift is observed in enrolment, from private schools to government schools between 2018 and 2020. The increased enrolment in government schools is particularly apparent among both boys and girls in secondary schools. This could be attributed mainly to the inability of parents to furnish financial burdens of private schooling as well as the closure of several private schools, given the economic crunch post the stringent lockdown. The dip in enrolments is not restricted to India. In the USA, for instance, Washington’s public-school enrolment fell by 3% since the last academic cycle. The enrolment decline was significant across all levels of schooling and all districts in the state. A move towards home-schooling or private education is being reported among parents in the USA.

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Does the pandemic impact intergenerational mobility?

Parental education is an indicator of socio-economic status for households. It also means access to smart phones and the internet as well as the choice of schools. The survey highlights that parents with lower education levels (both parents have Std V or less years of schooling) send their children to government schools, whereas those with higher education (Both have Std IX or more) educate their children in private schools. The ASER report also points out that as parents’ education and income levels rise, enrolment in government schools goes down. Moreover, about 40% of students from households with lower parental education did not do any activity (online classes or traditional learning).

Among families where parents have higher levels of education, the availability of smart phones is also higher than when compared to households with low parental education. 90% of children in homes with adequately educated parents received family support for learning, while only 50% of those in lower education households received such support. The pandemic has reaffirmed that the socio-economic status of households is a factor determining the opportunities available to young children. Children from educationally and poor families will have to battle the odds of not having amenities like smartphone, internet, electricity as well as counter the absence of learning assistance at home.

How community can support aid teaching and learning?

Community engagement and support have assumed prime importance in times of remote learning. While physical interaction among teachers and students is absent, other stakeholders must take responsibility to ensure learning and service delivery is as seamless as possible. ASER states that in rural India, about 70% schools got help from community members in reaching children. The survey observed that among parents with low education levels, children receive assistance from elder siblings. In households with higher parental education, 45% of the children received aid from their mothers. ASER highlights that parents with higher education levels seemed to have established significant contact with schoolteachers and in turn, receive support from schools. Approximately 34% of all children’s teachers in rural areas contacted parents or families to discuss learning material and child’s progress. The states of Bihar, Tripura and Punjab report the highest percentage of school respondents who take help from village/ community members to support children’s learning. While in the state of Kerala, local volunteers and NGOs were proactive in supporting schools, in Rajasthan Anganwadi workers actively support learning opportunities.

Has online education exacerbated the digital divide?

The survey notes that 43.6% of children in government schools do not have access to a smartphone, while among those in private schools a relatively lower proportion (25%) of students did not have access to a smartphone. Even with the lack of traditional classroom teaching, 60% of children stuck to textbooks in both government and private schools. About 47% of private school children reported using recorded video lessons and live classes as opposed to 26% of government school children. WhatsApp was the most popular medium for dissemination learning materials and activities.

A higher proportion of students enrolled in private schools received materials through WhatsApp than their counterparts in government schools. Children in government schools received materials and activities through phone calls or personal visits. Possibly, a result of lower smartphone availability among government school children. However, it is observed that for all grades, the availability of textbooks among government school children is much higher than their private school counterparts. While online education has deepened the divide between the haves and have-nots, family and community support have grown to plug in the gaps.

Once the schools reopen, significant efforts shall be needed to make up for the learning losses as well as to reintegrate students in traditional schooling systems. However, the crisis has brought out mechanisms to ensure a smooth transition from the digital to the physical world. As ASER data points out, more than 75% of fathers and mothers have more than primary school education. Given that parents are now more educated than ever before, they should be used in school systems as mediators in bridging educational inadequacies. With the New Education Policy on the cards, a lot can be done to explore strategies to combine e-learning and traditional education to increase the robustness of school systems. It is essential to keep the community support constant even after the pandemic, to ensure all stakeholders are actively involved in the well-being and progress.

Amir Ullah Khan and Nahia Hussainare researchers at the Centre for Development Policy and Practice based in Hyderabad.

Skype amirullahkhan Mob: 9871322477

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